Save Your Marriage: Simple Fixes to the Most Common Marital Problems

by Sarah Lilton

What's in the book?

Learn about the best ways to save your marriage!

    • Introduction
    • Tips for Novices
    • Tips for Experienced Communicators
    • Common Mistakes to Avoid
    • Insider Tips and Tricks
    • Conclusion
    • Sources
    • For Further Reading



Most people are excited about their wedding day. However, the wedding day itself isn’t nearly as important as the years of marriage to follow. If you’re truly committed to being married “for better or for worse,” you need to learn how to communicate appropriately with your significant other.

About 20 percent of marriages end in divorce within the first five years of the marriage, and most of these marriages fail because of communications issues.  Although financial problems, problems with relatives, and problems in the bedroom are among the top reasons for divorce, the real issue usually has to do with the way the couple communicate about these problems.

In my experience as a coach-in-training,  people are often afraid to talk about problems because they don’t want to mess up the relationship.  I’ve struggled with this as well, and I’ve found that every time I swallow anger, sadness or other negative feelings, I get depressed. Eventually, the feelings come out in a negative or destructive way, leaving me feeling embarrassed and causing unnecessary hurt to people I love. I’ve learned that honesty draws me closer to my significant other as well as allowing me to avoid that entire pattern.

In any case, failure to communicate can cause tiny problems to become dealbreakers. For example, if you don’t say anything about your partner’s tendency to leave dishes in the sink,  your partner may continue to leave the dishes undone  and when you can’t stand it anymore, you might fire off a list of accusations that quickly become an argument. Lack of communication can also lead to partners feeling defensive or picked on if criticized by the other partner, and 93 percent of couples who fight unfairly or attack one another verbally will get divorced within 10 years of marriage.

You’ll need to tone up your communication skills to help deal with bigger issues, too. The addition of a new baby into a family, a child going off to college, or a marriage partner changing jobs can cause both partners to become stressed out and then not deal with one another appropriately. Communication is even more important when a couple faces these types of situations; without communication, marriage partners will blow off steam by complaining to other people about one another or get buried in work so that they don’t have to speak to each other.

Poor communication causes marriage partners to feel undervalued and unloved, and this in turn can cause partners to forget that they love one another in the first place.

Once this shift occurs, partners begin to see one another as enemies and begin fighting each other out of a misplaced sense that their worth as human beings is being threatened. Once the marriage has been derailed in this manner, it’s difficult to get it back on track. Marriages that have deteriorated to this point require intervention from a counselor trained in teaching couples communication skills in order to stop the progression towards divorce.

Whether you’re newly married or have been married for a while,  you can learn to communicate better with your partner and  resolve common problems. As communication skills increase, so will your emotional intimacy. The strength of your bond will keep the marriage from becoming another divorce statistic, regardless of what problems you have to face together.


Once you’ve mastered the tips for novices, your relationship should be a lot healthier. This gives you a strong foundation to resolve problems.  However, problems don’t end when you each have communicated your own feelings and listened to your partner’s.  In fact, this type of communication is often just the beginning! You have to work through and resolve the actual problem once you have expressed your emotions.

This can be especially difficult if the problem is one that seems to have no easy solution. Couples often find themselves stuck if they disagree about major issues such as how to raise their children, and even less major issues can lead to an impasse if both parties are determined to get their own way.

The way to get unstuck after expressing deep emotion about an issue is through non-violent conflict resolution. Conflict resolution of this nature seeks to move people from being on opposite sides of a problem to being on the same side and working together towards a solution. It requires you and your spouse to understand each others’ needs and negotiate a solution.

Steps to Conflict Resolution



Verbally identify both parties’ needs.

“It sounds like you need help with the dishes so you don’t feel overwhelmed, while I need time to just relax and destress after coming home from work.”

Discuss needs to make sure you are both on the same page.

“Does that sound to you like what the issue is?”


Ask your partner to write down the first five ideas that come to mind for solving the problem.

Evaluate solutions together.

Ask your partner what he or she thinks of a particular solution and discuss it.

Come to an agreement.

“So we’re agreed that each of us will wash the dishes we personally use and leave the rest in the sink for the other. If this solution doesn’t work, we’ll discuss it again next Sunday.”

Although this process may sound simple, in reality it can take a lot of time and effort. Follow these steps to help resolve conflicts between you and your partner in a manner that satisfies everyone.

Step 1: Identify important needs.

Choose who will speak first and who will listen first. The partner who is speaking needs to express all of his or her feelings about the situation while the partner who is listening pays attention and reflects feelings back. The listener should be especially attentive to the speaker’s expressed needs.  For example, if your partner is angry about undone chores, you need to listen carefully to find out whether he or she is feeling overwhelmed, feels unappreciated and unloved, or both. The more the two of you discuss the issue, the closer you can get to the root of the problem. Of course, not every problem requires in-depth treatment, and after getting to know your partner’s dominant feelings, you’ll be more sensitive to when you have to probe deeper for the real issue.

Step 2: Switch roles.

During the negotiation process, it’s important to keep your focus on your partner as much as possible. Conflicts often occur when both partners feel that important needs aren’t being met, so the more you focus on meeting your partner’s needs, the more he or she will begin to see you as an ally rather than as an enemy. This makes it easier to negotiate and come to an acceptable solution.  After your partner has said everything he or she wants to say, ask to switch roles so that you can express your thoughts and feelings about the issue too. Make sure your partner is finished by asking if there is anything else he or she would like to share before switching roles.

Step 3: Brainstorm ideas together.

Get a dry erase board or a notebook and paper so that you can begin brainstorming ideas. The partner who spoke last writes down all of his or her partner’s ideas for solving the problem and then the two partners switch roles.

When brainstorming, be open to all of your partner’s ideas. Don’t criticize any idea—just write it down. The purpose of this step is to get all the ideas out on the table so you can come to a solution together, so even if an idea really bothers you, quietly include it on the list. You’ll have plenty of time to speak your mind when you are ready to evaluate ideas together.

Step 4: Evaluate your list of ideas.

Once you both have had the opportunity to brainstorm, look at your idea list together. One partner reads the first idea aloud and then both partners should discuss the idea. You and your partner need to share your real feelings about the idea and explain why the idea works or doesn’t work for you.

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